Category Archives: Hodder & Stoughton
This Beautiful Life by Katie Marsh
I cannot believe this is Katie Marsh’s third book already. Time seems to have gone so quickly since the launch of her wonderful debut novel My Everything in 2015. I am delighted to be a part of the official blog tour for This Beautiful Life. Another breath-taking that will break your heart and also make you laugh. It is just brilliant.
If you have not discovered any of the three books by Katie Marsh, then you are not just missing out on incredible books but also a writer that has cemented her place among the best of the recent new writers.
This is the story about Abi, she is in remission from Cancer and this really is her moment to grab hold of life and give this a second chance. This is Abi’s story and is set to her favourite playlist of her songs. This story is also about relationships and during the time when Abi was very ill you would think her husband John would be her rock but this appears not to be the case. We also meet their teenage son Seb who has a secret all of his own and is struggling not only coping with his mum’s illness but also fighting his own battle and it really is beginning to take its toll on Seb. This was really heart-breaking at times to read. So at a time when the family should be strong and united to help Abi, it is in fact a family divided and on the verge of breaking down.
Now she is recovering from Cancer Abi want to fight for another chance and bring her family back from the brink. I often speak about characters in novels and how important it is to make them real with real lives facing the same problems in everyday life that we all face. When you know someone who is suffering from Cancer you know the problems they face and not just on the medical side but also personal and financial. It all adds the stress and worry. With Katie Marsh and how she creates her characters they are as real as you and me. There is no higher praise. I am a huge admirer of her writing.
None of us are perfect and here in This Beautiful Life all the key characters all have their issues and I had to wonder while reading how this was all going to play out in the end not just for Abi but also for John and Seb. Sometimes when you know things are going wrong in life you feel as though you have lost control and at some point you are going to hit rock bottom. Abi must have thought this while she was fighting that dreadful disease but then you turn the corner and more problems are waiting to knock you down even more. Families and secrets. Oh yes we all know this goes on and her in this story it hits home. I am not going to give away how this ends. But you REALLY want and should read this beautifully written book that will break you and lift you. If it comes across that I am a bit of a fan of Katie Marsh and her writing, well I admit I am because her books are real life and the characters are just so believable and real. This is a writer who not just puts her heart and soul into her writing but goes even beyond that if that is possible. It is sad, funny heart-breaking and moving. It is a book that you should add to your Summer reading pile and I promise you will not regret reading. Apologies if there are tears while reading. HIGH RECOMMENDED
Thank you to Emma Knight and Hodder & Stoughton for the advanced review copy of This Beautiful Life.
This Beautiful Life by Katie Marsh was published by Hodder & Stoughton on 27th July and is now available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
This Beautiful Life Official Blog Tour
As we come to the end of July a real sense of excitement for me as one of my favourite book prizes of the year announcements is just a few days away. The Wainwright Book Prize 2017 in association with The National Trust is an award that celebrates the very best in writing about Nature and the great outdoors. One of my boyhood heroes was Alfred Wainwright and I have spent many hours just reading those wonderful iconic Pictorial Guides to the fells of the Lake District. It is no secret that one of my favourite genres in books is nature and the outdoors and my bookshelves are filled to capacity with some of the great books on these subjects. There is nothing better than being out in wilderness whether that is just being at one with nature or just admiring the stunning beautiful wild places that we have in our countryside from the mountains and islands of Scotland to the fells of the Lakes and the valleys of Wales and not forgetting our hardworking farmers. These are places to rejoice and to treasure now but above all for future generations. We are the caretakers and must preserve for our children and theirs to come.
I was honoured to have been given the opportunity to read all the books that make up The Wainwright Book Prize shortlist for 2017. I am still reading through the books and my personal reviews will appear soon. On the 27th June the shortlist was announced and on Thursday 3rd August direct from the BBC Countryfile live show the judges will announce this year’s winners. You can of course read more about the award and the judges chaired by TV’s Julia Bradbury on the website The Wainwright Prize Ahead of the announcement I thought I would give you just give a little introduction into the seven books that make up the shortlist.
The Wainwright Book Prize Shortlist 2017:
The January Man (A Year of Walking Britain) by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday)
The Running Hare by John Lewis-Stempel (Doubleday)
Love of Country (A Hebridean Journey) by Madeleine Bunting (Granta)
The Otters’ Tale by Simon Cooper (William Collins)
Wild Kingdom by Stephen Moss (Vintage)
The Wild Other by Clover Stroud (Hodder & Stoughton)
Where Poppies Blow by John Lewis-Stempel (W&N)
Previous Winners of The Wainwright Book Prize.
2016: The Outrun by Amy Liptrot (Canongate Books)
2015: Meadowland by John Lewis-Stempel (Transworld Publishers)
2014: The Green Road into Trees: A Walk Through England by Hugh Thompson (Windmill/Random House)
The 2017 Shortlisted Books
The January Man – A Year Walking of Britain by Christopher Somerville
This is the story of a year of walking around Britain and was in fact inspired by the song of the same name by Dave Goulder. The author sets off on a journey of discovery with memories of his late father walks that would cover all four seasons from all four corners of Britain from the Scottish isles to forests and vales. This in itself is a hope that readers will don their walking boots and grab their walking poles and explore the length and breadth of our country and the rich natural history and landscapes regardless of the vagaries of the British weather.
Rich not only in its descriptions but the exquisite writing of Christopher Somerville who has written thirty-six books.
The Otter’s Tale by Simon Cooper
For those like me who remember reading Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson then The Otter’s Tale by Simon Cooper will also surely appeal. Simon bought what was an abandoned water mill in Southern England and then go on to share his home and his life with a family of wild Otters.
What this enabled Simon Cooper to achieve was to observe one of this country most secretive of mammals and he did so at very close quarters. The family allowed the author to become a member of their own family and in turn this gives the reader a personal and unique insight into the lives of the Otters in what turned out to be an extraordinary relationship of trust between Otter and man the close relationship between Simon and the female Otter called Kuschta is incredibly close and personal.
Within this story Simon Cooper also discusses the natural history of Otters here in the UK and a mammal that was once so persecuted that it was very close to being extinct in this country. A year in the life of not only Simon Cooper but also a beautiful insight to a family of Otters that shared the life of the author.
Love of Country – A Hebridean Journey by Madeleine Bunting
Some of my happiest of memories are those when I have been walking on some of the islands of the Western Coast of Scotland. Just mention the names of some of the islands like Jura, St. Kilda, Lewis, Harris, Sky, Rum and so many more. Each rich in their own history and also natural history. Here Madeleine Bunting a former Guardian journalist takes us on a journey that took six years to complete. Each time she would return there was more history and culture to uncover more islands to explore. The history of these islands shapes our countries history even today. The author not only explores but also asks questions. This is a wonderful travel companion if you are heading to one of the islands for a holiday. Read before you go and read while you are there as there is so much to read and learn. A wonderful book.
The Running Hare by John Lewis-Stempel
A former winner of the Wainwright Book Prize this year has two books on the Shortlist, the first titled The Running Hare looks at life on a farmland, the wild animals and plants that life on it and in it. This is an extraordinary piece of writing and you can see why this writer is so acclaimed. With so many species lost, this is a farmer who took a field and farmed it in a traditional way to conserve the wildlife that inhabit our fields. He talks about the birds that feed off the land and microbes that live in the land each having their own battle to survive modern practices. In fast paced modern world can farming go back to old practices to husband farmland thereby protecting the wildlife that also share the same farmland. A Place were the wild Hare can call home and live safely. Beautifully written and profound. A book that will stand the test of time and will be read by future generations to come. This is one of the great nature writers of our time.
The Wild Other by Clover Stroud
A deeply moving memoir from Clover Stroud about a life that was shaped by a tragic accident to her mother when Clover was only sixteen-years-old. Her mother was left with brain damage after a riding accident. Clover found herself from gypsy camps in Ireland to rodeos of Texas then to the far reaches of Russia before the White Horse vale of England brought her home to England. These journeys she took in the name of trying to understand a sense of home that was left shattered and broken. A remarkable and deeply honest account of loss and love. Nature has the power to heal the wounds that seem never to heal and here in The Wild Other Clover Stroud tells her personal story that is full of bravery and a life lived to the full. At times frank Clover reveals all in this haunting memoir that will both move and inspire the reader.
Wild Kingdom by Stephen Moss
Stephen Moss is the acclaimed naturalist, writer and TV producer. Here in Wild Kingdom Stephen Moss at times is frank about this countries disappearing wildlife and asks some important questions about the land we share with the animals the Britain. It is not all bad news, just look at how Otters are now doing. But many others are not faring so well and Moss poses the question how can we bring back Britain’s wildlife. With intensive farming practices and housing developments taking over and wildlife being squeezed out of their natural homes something has to give and the wildlife suffers as a consequence. There has to be room for both man and wildlife to life in harmony. Rewilding is a term we may yet start to hear more of in the years ahead. So many questions are posed here. Moss takes us on a journey from farmland to wetlands from one part of the country to another. He knows what he is talking about and there is so much to understand. Common sense is key. If we care about our wildlife we can make a difference. It is not all bad news there is much to praise but there is not resting on laurels as there is work to do. Generations to come will point to our generation if we do not. This is so well written by a man who is passionate about the future of our wildlife.
Where Poppies Blow by John Lewis-Stempel
Where Poppies Blow is the second book by John Lewis-Stempel in this year’s Shortlist along with his The Running Hare. We all know of the horrors of the Great War. But in this book the author takes the connection between the British soldiers fighting in the Great War and the animals and plants and the relationships between them.
For many soldiers living inside the land they were close to nature as you can possibly get, many soldiers sought solace in the birds and plants around them, at desperate times it provided both peace and solace in a place of sheer hell. Many soldiers indeed were birdwatchers and there are stories of officers and men fishing in flooded shell craters. Here you will read of soldiers planting flower beds in trenches, this sounds truly remarkable but John Lewis-Stempel has researched this book and brings to life the incredible stories of fighting men and nature and in the end the cure that only nature can bring in its purest form. There is a quote on the inside of the book that just sums up what the men went through. ‘If it weren’t for the birds, what a hell it would be’. A remarkable book that will take pride of place among the many natural history books in my book case.
I have been following The Wainwright Book Prize now for a number of years and I believe this has to be the strongest of the shortlists yet. The quality of the writing is just outstanding. I am not sure if it is just me but it just gets stronger and stronger every year. I really do not envy the judges in their decision, but every one of these seven books is a real candidate to win the prize. Could John Lewis-Stempel win the prize again? I just have a feeling The Running Hare is going to be the book to look out for on Thursday. I would love to hear your views on the shortlist and if you have a favourite to win. I will of course be following the prize announcement as and when it happens and will Tweet the winning book as soon as I know over on my Twitter page The Last Word 1962 I will be reviewing each of the books in the coming weeks.
A Life Without – by Katie Marsh
The Last Word Review
A Life Without You is the second novel from Katie Marsh following on from My Everything which was so beautifully written and a story that is thought-provoking. I highly recommend it if you have not yet come across it. When my advanced review copy arrived in April I was very humbled to find out that I had been mentioned towards the end of the book.
It is Zoe’s wedding day a day that is supposed to be a very special day and one that she will remember for the rest of her life. But something is wrong, is this a case of wedding day nerves or is this Zoe wondering if SHE really is doing the right thing. Then the doorbell rings and Zoe’s life changes. A friend of her Mum is standing on the doorstep. Zoe’s mum has been arrested now her wedding day lies in ruins. Is this the moment for Zoe to escape what is meant to be her big day?
What comes next through a story of pure unconditional love from a mother to her daughter. But there is much more to this story and it is a powerful story, of forgiveness or the road to forgiveness. How do you start the process of forgiving a parent for something that happened many years before? Sometimes this journey is not an easy path to take.
Through A Life Without You we see the story from Zoe and her Mum and the letters written by Zoe from an early age to her mother Gina. Then we start to see what went wrong and from her mother to her daughter. At times I felt I was intruding into the very personal lives of a mother and daughter but this is how beautifully Katie has written such an emotive story that deals with themes including the devastating impact of the onset of Alzheimer’s. Some readers will recognise some of the issues raised with the pages at times heart-breaking and yet there is laughter also within the story. There is so much warmth that comes from this story and one of hope when illness can literally tear a family apart. It is a story of hope in despair and one that will make you think about your life and how you must live for every moment of every day. It is an evocative story that Katie tells and one that you will not forget. A story of hope and of forgiveness.
I have little doubt that A Life Without You will receive even more praise. When I started reading I knew very quickly I was reading something quite something a tender story of a mother and daughter and of the past and the future. Bags full of emotion written and will pull on your heart one moment and make it soar the next.
Thank you to Emma Knight at Hodder & Stoughton for the advanced review copy.
A Life Without You by Katie Marsh is published on 14 July by Hodder & Stoughton and is available to pre-order through Waterstones and all good bookshops.
Stalin’s Englishman by Andrew Lownie
The Last Word Review
Imagine spending 20 years researching a book, well this is exactly what Andrew Lownie the country’s foremost literary agent has done with Stalin’s Englishman – The Lives of Guy Burgess.
This is truly an outstanding biography of a member of ‘The Cambridge Spies’ just mentioning the names Maclean, Philby, Blunt and Burgess is enough to send a shiver down the spine of anyone in the Foreign Office. Burgess climb to fame through the BBC to MI5 and MI6 via the Foreign Office then in December 1934 joined the Cambridge Spy ring.
There has always been a question mark over just how significant Guy Burgess’s role was in the spy ring and was the information passed on, what Lownie has done has done in writing Stalin’s Englishman is to look deeper into the life of Guy Burgess and for the first time we see the real ‘Englishman’ and the role he really did play. The story goes that while the others did the ‘Spying’ Burgess spent his time getting fired from various roles and getting drunk. Was this how he actually planned it, so that many would think differently of him. In the end Lownie’s book debunks that myth forever.
In the end it was Guy Burgess’s own KGB leader who said the Burgess was in fact the real leader and held the group together. High praise for someone who many believed played a minor role. During his time as a spy it now transpires that Burgess actually supplied the Russians with much more information that was first thought. He was a major player in the spy ring after all.
Stalin’s Englishman does not read like a biography or an historical account, from the first page I was completely immersed into a book that reads more like a page turning spy thriller this is great testament to Lownie and how he both planned and wrote this meticulous book.
Burgess could be cold and calculating and would happily betray his country and would even make shocking sacrifices to help his cause even to the point of offering to ‘liquidate’ a friend if his role was under threat.
Photo: Guy Burgess
The character that is Guy Burgess is incredibly fascinating to read about he was in fact as different the heads and tails of a coin. Charming to his friends and admirers but on the flip side often found drunk and reeking of tobacco and alcohol and rude to many others. In 1951 after being kicked out of Washington he along with Blunt fearing they were about to be found out fled to Moscow and remained there until his death in 1963 at the age of 52. His ashes were secretly interred at the family plot in Hampshire.
After reading this incredible account I have the feeling that the story of Guy Burgess and his fellow spies will still be talked about many years from now as the true extent of the information passed to the Russians was never truly exposed.
Incredible research and brilliant writing go to make up an outstanding account of Guy Burgess and one book I highly recommend it is eye opening as an historical account and if you enjoy reading spy stories then this is one book that must not be overlooked.
Stalin’s Englishman by Andrew Lownie is published by Hodder & Stoughton and is available through Waterstones and all good bookshops. Paperback is due for release on 2 June.
Jakob’s Colours by Lindsay Hawdon
The Last Word Review
A story that will break your heart in two but also gives hope. A beautifully written book that demands to be read.
Over the last year or so I have been privileged and at the same time trusted in reviewing books on the Holocaust a subject that is close to my heart.
One aspect of the Holocaust that is less often spoken about is the gypsy Holocaust it is estimated that over a million European gypsies were murdered in death camps as a result of the Nazi persecution of the gypsy and Romany populations, as the laws passed in Berlin that applied to all Jews at the same time they also applied to others groups including the gypsy populations and so it began the ‘Porajmos’
Many books have been written on the Holocaust both fiction and non-fiction and now adding to the list comes Jakob’s Colours by Lindsay Hawdon in what is an important addition the historical fiction accounts of the Holocaust.
The story centres around an eight-year-old half-blood gypsy boy called Jakob who is fleeing the Nazi tyranny. It is Austria 1944 Jakob is clutching his only possessions which include a pebble and a box. Jakob is hiding in the woods he is alone so very along and frightened.
The book is divided into the current as we find Jakob running and hiding and the past and we meet his mother Lor and father Yavy the story weaves back and forth between Switzerland and then to 1920’s Somerset, which helps build the story and how we get to the current time where Jakob is running. The story of Jakob’s parents I found fascinating and gave a real insight into how their lives came to be and how they found themselves in Austria. Sadness grows as the reader already knows what history is about to unleash on the family.
This is slow starting story but that is not a negative it is purely the writing style of Hawdon that that at times is poetic and also builds a story that just captures the reader. At times especially as you move further into the story it will break your heart as we read in detail and will shock some readers as the Nazis start rounding up the gypsy populations, deeply harrowing as we read of the shocking violence that took place.
As much as this is deeply heart-breaking and harrowing story we must seek hope where there is no hope and colour where there is no colour. This is poignant and will challenge the reader and for some will uncover a part of history that they may never have knew about.
At the end of the Second World War trials took place at Nuremburg and those still alive were prosecuted for War Crimes against humanity. To the shame of those prosecuting the Nazis they ignored the gypsy Holocaust and it was not until the mid-1990’s that any form of commemoration took place.
I commend Lindsay Hawdon on a brave, haunting and important debut novel that tells of little-known part of history.
Thank you to Hodder & Stoughton and Bookbridgr for a review copy.
Jakob’s Colours by Lindsay Hawdon published by Hodder and Stoughton is available through all good bookshops.
My Everything by Katie Marsh
Review Date: 10 September 2015
Author: Katie Marsh
Release Date: 27 August 2015
Publishers: Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN –10: 1473613639
ISBN – 13: 978-1473613638
Available in Paperback and Kindle
The Last Word Review
An exceptional heart-warming debut novel with a message of hope and love. A beautifully written novel
I had already heard good things about My Everything by Katie Marsh so when this landed on my desk I wanted to read the book there and then. Finally I have and it is a beautifully written thoughtful novel.
Marsh writes with such tenderness about a subject that she has painstakingly researched and put together a novel that you will find very difficult to put down. The ultimate page turning novel packed full of emotion but at the same time uplifting.
On the day Hannah has decided that this will be the day that she ends her marriage to Tom by telling him she is leaving him, something terrible happens that will change their lives forever.
Tom is a workaholic and seems to spend more time in the office that at home, and when he at home Tom is forever criticizing Hannah and after another drunken late night row, Hannah has made up her mind she is going to leave Tom and get away, but she will need to decide when that will be.
Hannah wakes up to find Tom not in bed but lying on the bedroom floor, she thinks he is drunk after another drunken late night, but Tom is not drunk he is paralysed on the floor. The Paramedics are called and later in hospital it is confirmed that Tom has had a stroke at the age of only 32. Hannah’s plans to tell Tom she is leaving all falls apart and she is riddled with guilt, what does she do now? What is to become of their lives, their marriage? All she wants to do now is look after her husband in sickness and in health after that was their marriage vows on their wedding day just a few years before.
Their story is mixed with flashbacks to the past and the present. Hannah’s dreams are now shattered and now the pair have to try and rebuild their lives, truth is can they, does Hannah want to stay or is it time for them both to move on, what will everyone think if she now left Tom after his stroke. There is guilt in this story.
I loved the characters in this story especially Tom’s errant Sister who at first you take an instant dislike. Note I said at first. But all their friends bring something to the story that adds to its depth and warmth.
My Everything is a s story that reminds us of how fragile our lives are, what we have and hold so precocious and sometimes we take for granted can change at an instant and with that our lives can change forever.
So do Tom and Hannah make it together you will need to get yourself a copy of My Everything and settle down to a read you will not forget.
Meet the Author
Katie lives in South west London with my husband and daughter, who are locked in an ongoing turf war with my ever-expanding book collection. As well as writing novels I work in healthcare, and my first book was inspired by the bravery of the patients I met while working in stroke services. It’s called ‘My Everything’ and is about a young woman – Hannah – whose husband Tom has a stroke on the day she’s going to leave him. I really hope you enjoy it.
When I’m not working or writing my next book (currently a large pile of Post-its), I spend a lot of time in local parks trying and failing to keep up with my daughter’s scooter. I love mojitos, afternoon cinema trips, stealing my husband’s toast, karaoke (in my head I AM Cher) and adding cheese to absolutely all of my meals. My Everything is Katie’s debut novel and was published by Hodder on 27 August 2015.